Informative packaging helps consumers understand nutrition?
The battle lines between major retailers in the UK have been drawn distinctly in recent years over the nature of voluntary front-of-pack nutritional labelling schemes that enable consumers to make at-a-glance food choices.
The new year saw the launch of a television advertising campaign by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), backed by the likes of Sainsbury's and Waitrose, in support of traffic light colour-coded signposting. Simultaneously, 21 food manufacturers, such as Danone and Kellogg's, joined forces with Tesco and Morrisons in a £4m campaign to promote the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) label scheme.
Despite these mixed signals, all organisations claim to have done their homework and developed systems that enable customers to make healthier food choices quicker and easier. This will now be put to the test.
Amid the plethora of consumer market research surveys conducted by stakeholders in the food industry, and even the national media, the role of peacemaker has gone to a new independent Project Management Panel (PMP) which will initiate an evaluation of the impact of varying front-of-pack nutrition labels on shopping behaviour. The Panel was established by the Nutrition Strategy Steering Group, which is chaired by Public Health Minister Caroline Flint and FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton, and comprises key representatives from rival supermarket chains as well as the National Heart Forum and National Consumer Council.
Sue Duncan, Chair of the PMP and Chief Government Social Researcher, says, 'This project will ensure that the evidence needed in this high profile area of work will be robust.'
The PMP will draw upon advice from a group of interested retailers and health organisations to create a specification for the study that will then go out to tender, with ongoing monitoring from the panel.
An FSA spokesperson adds, 'This work will provide new information on the impact of signpost labelling schemes [on] food purchasing decisions. We expect all parties to live by the research results and adopt whatever system is shown to be the most effective.'
But with millions invested already by key players in their respective initiatives, and the study expected to be underway only later this year, time will tell if a collaborative pan-industry effort to encourage health eating will be the outcome. Until then, it will be up to health conscious consumers to spot the difference.